Trip Report for our Venture to
Pico Bonito Lodge, Honduras
February 15 – 22, 2014
It was a strange start to a tour; airline delays and cancellations kept me away for 1 day and 2 folks could not make it at all: a combination of winter weather and crowded airline schedules. Thankfully all melded after that for a very enjoyable tour to one of our newest destinations – Pico Bonito Lodge in Honduras. Our first full day was spent around the very beautiful grounds of the lodge where we explored both the landscaped areas, as well as the more wooded and/or areas that were being returned to nature. One of our target birds of the tour was the very wonderful Lovely Cotinga, and yes, we had wonderful views this afternoon as the electric blue males and the ash-gray females fed in an Avocado tree. Nearby we had another one of the PBL specialties- the Keel-billed Motmot. Wow!
The grounds of the lodge are very attractively planted with a mix of native and other tropical plants and as a result, they attract a wonderful mix of resident and overwintering species. Montezuma and Chestnut-headed Oropendolas visit the feeders and Gray Catbirds and Ovenbirds feed in the manicured gardens.
One of the most popular outings from the lodge has to be the morning train and boat trip to Cuero y Salado National Park. It’s always good birding while waiting for the very wonderful open-air train and today was no exception with Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Turquoise-browed Motmot both vying for attention. The train journey is a great birding experience as the slow speed gives us great opportunities to see both the larger wading birds and also the flocks of seedeaters that flush ahead of the train. As well as both Variable and White-collared Seedeaters, it’s also always a good place for wintering Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks. This year it did not rain on the boat, so we got to enjoy a full trip into the mangroves. Highlights had to be Boat-billed Heron, a very obliging Sungrebe and a sneaky Gray-necked Wood-Rail that slipped away into the mangroves. It was then back to the lodge for lunch and more exploration of the grounds (and a visit to the amazing snake collection!)
Lancetilla Botanical gardens is about 1.5 hours west of La Ceiba and a great and easy place to spend the morning. The walking is level and the birds are often on the edge of the forest making for easy (well, most of the time) viewing. We never did glimpse the elusive Ruddy Crake, but the Black-striped Sparrow did show itself after some time and we had great views of a pair of soaring Black Hawk-Eagles and a terrific Rufous-tailed Jacamar that just sat along the roadside. Lancetilla is also pretty good for wintering “North American” migrants, such as Chestnut-sided, Magnolia and Black-and-white Warblers.
After a morning birding at Lancetilla it’s always nice to slow down a little with lunch and some beach birding along the beautiful Caribbean Sea. The restaurant does not look like much, but produces some very tasty food. Wash this down with a beer or a soft drink and a dip in the ocean – a very nice break! It also gave us a chance to see some coastal birds, such as Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird and both Sandwich and Royal Terns.
Our next day was the long one, with a very early start (!) from the lodge. Our destination was the dry Aguan Valley, around the other side of Pico Bonito National Park. It’s a very attractive drive through small towns and agricultural land with mountains in the background and our first stop was in some of the farm country. Here we were looking for the beautiful White-fronted Parrot which nests in the cavities in the large trees. Yes, we got some great views, along with some other more typical open-country species, such as Eastern Meadowlark, Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Gray-crowned Yellowthroat. The country gets drier and thornier as we approach our destination, which of course, is for the Honduran Emerald – the only bird that is endemic to Honduras. Thanks to the very sharp eyes of our driver we found our first pair of Honduran Emeralds soon after leaving the main road- and they posed for some great photographs. As well as our target hummer in the thorn scrub we also found Canivet’s (Salvin’s) Emerald, Cinnamon Hummer, as well as “our” own Ruby-throated Hummer. Lunch was at a nearby ranch- good food and very interesting to eat on a local farm.
Rio Santiago is a river just west of Pico Bonito and where a Canadian ex-pat has built a small lodge and where the hummers just swarm! A few hours spent here watching the feeders or hiking the steep trails is a great morning. The hummer feeders attract over a dozen species with White-bellied Emerald, Violet Sabrewing and Rufous-tailed Hummer being the most common. The star bird was the Band-tailed Barbthroat, a species of Hermit which sneaked in from time to time – thankfully it was seen by everyone….with some patience. The trail hike was steep, but worth the climb as a male Black-crested Coquette was coming in to an Inga tree. Again with a little patience we saw the bird very well- and yes, I remember how hot it was while waiting for the bird to appear! The afternoon was spent relaxing. A few of us walked down to a nearby finca to look for the evening Short-tailed Nighthawk. While we were waiting for it, a small pool in the backyard attracted in a wide range of wintering birds- Wood Thrush, Kentucky, Worm-eating and Hooded Warblers, as well as White-collared Manakin – very nice indeed, and yes, we did get a couple of fly-bys from the Nighthawk: a great end to the day.
Our last full day was spent exploring the lodge grounds and to hike the Loop Trail. This is a bit of a slog at times, with some rocky and eroded patches, but the birding was well worth it. We hit a large mixed species flock mostly within the understory. Yes, it was a challenge to get onto all of the birds, but we did our best. Highlights had to be the Black-throated Shrike-Tanager that sat still for all of us to get onto, several Russet Antshrikes and a mixed bag of Woodcreepers at an antswarm.
We finished the trip with exactly 215 species, as well as a handful of smaller mammals and reptiles – always a wonderful place to visit.